Ont. college strike could affect student loans

Ontario's college students may not be able to get loans and other financial services offered by the province as a result of the strike by support workers.

Ontario's college students may not be able to get loans and other financial services offered by the province as a result of the strike by support workers.

College counsellors who help students process loan applications through the Ontario Student Assistance Program are among the 8,000 striking workers who walked off the job Thursday.

Chris Whitaker, president of the St. Lawrence College's campuses in Brockville, Cornwall and Kingston, said students seeking loans should expect delays, although the colleges are trying to minimize them.

"We've got our managers covering off, working in the academic school offices to deal with students coming in, releasing financial aid documents to students who are coming in for OSAP," said Whitaker.

Lineups for OSAP are typical at the beginning of the school year, he said. Applications went smoothly this week, but Whitaker says the real test will be next week when thousands of students are expected to pour onto the campuses.

Peterborough's Fleming College cancelled OSAP appointments Friday through Wednesday and said loan counsellors wouldn't be available again until Sept. 12.

Georgian College in Barrie said on its website that approved OSAP recipients will get their loans but new loans won't be processed during the walkout and other financial aid services won't be available.

At Fanshawe College in London non-unionized administrative staff and part-time workers have been reassigned to the financial aid office in an effort to keep loans rolling, said spokeswoman Leanne Perreault.

Mature students and others who rely on college daycare centres to look after their children while they attend classes will also be out of luck.

Lambton College in Sarnia has closed its Early Childhood Education Centre which serves the public, staff and students and normally cares for about 60 children.

"Unfortunately, it's a great disappointment to us," said spokeswoman Margaret Dragon. "We've had to close our child care centre. We know that's disruptive to our clients."

Confederation College, which has several campuses in northwestern Ontario, also closed its children and family centre. The fitness centre and print shop have been shut down as well.

Back at Lambton, students can register and find their class schedules online but librarians are on strike so no reference assistance will be available.

No contract talks are scheduled between the colleges and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the striking registrars, counsellors, librarians, administrators, IT staff and cleaners.

Bargaining began in June but the two sides can't agree on wage increases. The college's wish to extend the probationary period for new hires to one year from six months is also a sticking point, said union spokesman Greg Hamara.

The union wants a three per cent annual wage increase while the colleges are offering 1.5 per cent in each of the first two years and 1.75 per cent in the third year.

Don Sinclair with the management's bargaining team said the colleges still have "a reasonable offer on the table."

Pickets delayed people entering colleges Friday but no significant incidents were reported, said Sinclair.

About 10,000 part-time college support workers are not part of the union and are not on strike, the first by college support staff since 1979.